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Frank Friedman

For Passover, as the effects of this pandemic were really hitting home, I wrote a d’var Torah for Parashat T’zav that I shared with members of the Board of Trustees at TI. One piece of the d’var that still resonates with me is “He shall then take off his vestments, and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes out to a clean place.”  Substitute the word “scrubs” for vestments, and the description becomes prophetic.  “When he touches human uncleanness–any such uncleanness whereby one becomes unclean–and though he has known it, the fact has escaped him, but later he realizes his guilt.”

As an emergency physician, like so many other caregivers, first responders, and everyone working in public unable to quarantine at home, I spend a lot of time girding against an invisible threat that has so changed the normal order. Like priests in T’zav, it seems that I am always putting on and taking off vestments, moving between clean and unclean. Wearing a mask to exit home, putting on another mask to enter the hospital. (I even shaved off my beard of 30+ years so that my mask would fit tight). Changing home vestments for holy robes, in this case scrubs. Donning additional vestments—a gown, face shield, gloves—in order to perform the most basic and sacred tasks of my profession, to permit me to enter a treatment room and to care for my fellows, to touch, but not really, those who may be afflicted by this scourge.

At the shift’s end, in order to return to my wife, my community, and to leave the unclean behind, there are further rituals. Removing layers, washing and rewashing my hands, rinsing the bad humors from my body in my office shower. Then showering one more time upon return home, just to be certain. Doffing the clothes I wore into work and donning clean. A recurrent wish echoing in my heart that this too one day shall pass.

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